Our Countryside – Peaceful and Idyllic or a Dangerous Place to Be?

Posted: May 7, 2014 in Environmental
Tags: , , , ,

As you can probably imagine I spend a lot of time outside watching our native wildlife as well as perfecting my field craft skills for photographic and video protects. I’m a member of various wildlife groups both local and national and part of what I do is to survey and monitor the wildlife in my area for both scientific and security purposes, something which I enjoy immensely as it brings me into contact with lots of species most people will only catch a fleeting glimpse of every now and then. Only a few nights ago I was sat quietly watching two beautiful fox cubs playing only a few feet from me in the fading light. They had emerged from the earth after the parents had both departed some time earlier for a nights hunting and played joyfully, completely at ease with my presence. If you’re quiet, suitably dressed and make no sudden moves the wildlife will come to accept you and go about their normal business, however two recent incidents lead me to question actually how safe this seemingly simply and harmless activity could be.

The first happened as I monitored a local badger sett. This sett is in arable farmland, situated on the edge of a small copse and is highly active. I first surveyed this area over the Christmas break last year and noticed that that farmer had place a large temporary fence right through the copse extending a good 30 feet or so into the empty fields on either side. This was the type of fencing you’d see at perhaps a festival to stop interlopers, large solid metal units held at the base with concrete blocks and lashed together at the top. I wondered what the purpose of such a structure was in a seemingly pointless location. Jumping on a few months I had visited the site on a couple of occasions and witnessed hare, fox, deer as well as the resident badgers. My viewing was aided by a rickety platform built into a tree directly opposite the sett on the other side of the small field. I had my suspicions as to what this was used for but failed to link it’s purpose with that of the fence. Now although my purpose for being there was completely harmless and legit in terms of monitoring a protected species I was there without the knowledge of the landowner. I will always work this way as any potential crimes against species like the badger will be covered up once access from the landowner is requested however on this evening I was spotted and the landowner drove over for a chat.

On being questioned I told him my purpose and after a short conversation he seemed quite amiable and not overly concerned at my presence, we talked about the badgers and he asked me some details which I was happy to discuss. Clearly this was good news, he was perfectly within his rights to ask me to leave which I would have had to comply with, however he moved on happy although wanting some more rain to water his crop of sugar beet. However a short time later another vehicle arrived. This was the landowners nephew who wasn’t so pleased at my presence. Although I said I’d already spoken with his uncle he grilled me as to my purpose and got somewhat agitated. It seemed an overreaction considering my previous conversation unless of course he had something to hide. During the exchange he stated that they take part in “wildlife control”, (a phase I have come to despise) and couldn’t have me wandering around at night in camouflage when they were shooting fox and deer. He gave me his name and number and told me to call him before entering the land in the future before driving off in a huff. Now things could have been worse of course but my night of viewing had been ruined so I returned home. It was then I realised the purpose of the fence. It was to drive any animals using the copse as a byway out into the fields where they could be shot, from the rickety platform I was using to view the sett from.

One of my local foxes

One of my local foxes

I wanted to challenge the nephew on the killing of foxes but the time clearly wasn’t right. The removal of resident foxes is, as I’ve said before totally counterproductive. New foxes will fill the void in a matter of days and as an arable farm producing mostly vegetable oil I couldn’t see the justification, no matter how misguided, in attempting to reduce their numbers. Surely having a good fox population would keep the masses of rabbits in check and save them significant costs in loses from Thumper munching his way through their crops. Now neither the landowner or the nephew seemed particularly bright it has to be said but the hatred of foxes is clearly being handed down through the generations of our farming community and it’s a cycle that needs to be broken. I suspect the damage from deer to be also minimal considering the crops being grown and their shooting was for both pleasure and food. I’ll be back in due course to check on things and no, I won’t be telling them in advance. So much for the guardians of our countryside (Note: There are some very environmental farmers out there and I feel for them but they definitely seem in the minority).

The second incident happened only a few days ago. This time I was located in amongst the low scrub and vegetation on the side of a ditch which overlooked another sett and fox earth. I’d already had the pleasure of seeing both parent foxes leave the earth for the night and I hoped I would be rewarded with the sighting of more badgers and perhaps the fox cubs. I’m very much in my element in such surroundings, sat quietly observing nature as daytime fades into night, senses heightened in the stillness as the last birds sing and natures night shift take over. This serenity was rudely shattered with the loud bang of a shotgun only feet away. Needless to say I almost soiled my combats! Concerned for my safety I extricated myself quietly from the location and went in search of the perpetrator. On one side there is a shallow pond with reeds that are full of nesting waterfowl and song birds like Warblers and the other traditional shrubs like Hawthorn. I was situated on a public bridleway so had a perfect right to be there regardless of the time of day or night.

Git orf moi land!

Git orf moi land!

I don’t usually like to carry a torch on such occasions, preferring my own night vision to develop and remain as unobtrusive as possible. Due to this I had no method of warning the shooter of my presence and clearly startling someone with a loaded gun is to be avoided at all costs. I’m pretty healthy and have a strong desire to stay that way. After making my way along the scrub I risked a peek down the hedge line and sure enough there was the usual 4×4 parked tight up against the hedge. I returned to my car with a view of the area and waited. Moments later another vehicle arrived and pulled over into the field. I later found out that this was one of the good guys, a local nature lover concerned with the shooters presence so close to nesting birds. The shooter left shortly after no doubt disturbed by the concerned person and I made it my business to find where he lived should he not have permission from the landowner to be shooting in the area. I’m still waiting on the outcome of that one. He was back the next day as well when I drove past to check the area, clearly his blood lust not satisifed.

The thing that strikes me is the number of people that are tooled up and blasting away at night in our countryside with little regard for other people and the wildlife. These incidents were only a couple of weeks apart and not separated by a great deal of real estate. If we assume there’s a similar number of gun owners going out shooting regularly across the country then you’re left with the impression that Syria would be a more peaceful place for an evening stroll. Clearly that’s an overstatement but you get my drift. I have checked on the legality issue with regards to shooting near public rights of way and the shooter was probably OK in that respect however that didn’t ease my concerns with regards to shooting so close to a badger sett and the well-being of the resident fox family. There have be several documented cases of people being shot at night by hunters with some serious injuries occured and I don’t fancy being an addition to that list but while I continue to monitor my local wildlife at night then no doubt my path will cross more people with guns. I now carry a very bright torch. This will alert them to my presence and effectviely scupper any chances they have of killing anything else. A double win as far as I’m concerned.

So if you’re out at night enjoying your surroundings take extra care. Your next step could be directly into the firing line.


No blog update next week, I’ll be taking a well earned break north of the border to watch Eagles, Otters and Dolphins. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.

  1. June Eardley says:

    So glad you do with regards to your last comment – have a lovely holiday – Saw Eagles on the Isle of Arran and Skye a couple of years ago and Otters up the Great Glen right at the south end of Loch Ness and by at Loch Garten where the Ospreys are – June NEEBG Essex


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